Summary and book reviews of Allah's Torch by Tracy Dahlby

Allah's Torch

A Report from Behind the Scenes in Asia's War on Terror

By Tracy Dahlby

Allah's Torch
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2005,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Dec 2005,
    327 pages.

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Book Summary

Indonesia, Southeast Asia -- the next front in the war on terrorism maybe the most difficult ... and explosive.

Long before September 11, 2001, terrorism's global elite was already zeroing in on Indonesia -- the world's most populous Islamic nation, and its largest archipelago, where dense jungles and intricate, unpatrolled coastlines conceal almost endless hiding places. Acclaimed journalist and filmmaker Tracy Dahlby takes us into this dangerous terrain, both before and after 9/11, interweaving the divergent perspectives of Koran-thumping preachers, hardened holy warriors, military commandos, and embattled Muslim moderates, in a first-rate reporting adventure that sheds new light on the epidemic chaos now threatening our international community.

By turns harrowing, thought-provoking, and humorous, Allah's Torch charts a fascinating course through a sprawling land unknown to most Americans where the home-bred Jemaah Islamiyah, Asia's answer to Al Qaeda, pursues its deadly ambition of pressing all of Southeast Asia under the yoke of a pure Islamic super-state.

With the trained observer's eye for detail and veteran newsman's sense of the story hidden behind the headlines, Dahlby gives readers a highly personal tour of the militant Jakarta slums, terrorist-traumatized Bali, and the Islamic heartland on the island of Java, where the outcome of a struggle now raging between moderate Muslims and their extremist brethren for the country's Islamic soul promises to have far-reaching effects on the lives of ordinary Americans. In so doing, Dahlby maps out the chilling realities of what radical Islam has planned for us as our worlds inevitably collide -- and offers some surprising conclusions about how America's leaders -- and its citizens -- can best defend our country against Asia's new Osama bin Ladens.

Chapter One
Holy War
May 11, 2000, 7 P.M.

The moon was shining over the harbor at Makassar, the storied old spice port nine hundred miles east of Jakarta, when Norman and I stood in the steamy night, staring up at the huge steel flanks of the interisland passenger liner the M.V. Bukit Siguntang. With its upper decks wrapped around a large single funnel, and bathed in a garish yellow light from intertwining floodlights, the vessel resembled a giant wedding cake from hell. Dozens of embarking passengers, shoving and yelling, and using their luggage as battering rams, fought for a foothold on the rickety gangway. Every now and then, pairs of gimlet-eyed cops in maroon berets and camouflage would yank some poor devil out of the mob, probe his deteriorating cardboard box with the snout of a machine gun, and haul him off into the shadows.

Alarmed by the chaos, I grabbed Norman by the arm, and said, "Remember, pal, we're here for a look -- but that is all. If anything, and I ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Dahlby's tendency to spend as much time highlighting the lighter hearted side of Indonesia as he does the more sinister people and events is seen as a weakness by some reviewers. However, for the great majority of us who have little knowledge of the current political and religious situation in Indonesia (and, if we're honest, would probably have been hard pressed to find it on a map until the Tsunami hit in December 2004), the combination of travelogue and political journalism is both relevant and interesting.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (623 words).

Media Reviews
Newsweek - International Edition

Thoughtful and engaging. Dahlby combines the sharp sensitivities of a political observer with an old-fashioned flair for storytelling.

Kirkus Reviews

Regrettably, most of Dahlby's narrative takes the form of a sometimes cute, sometimes merely self-indulgent travelogue full of set pieces-guerrillas out of Terry and the Pirates, strange food, mysterious rajahs, and so forth--that is at odds with and ultimately undermines the dire import of Dahlby's findings on the ground. Useful, but trying of the patience.

Publishers Weekly

While he gives short history lessons and cuts to larger current political debates during his journeys, Dahlby stays closer to his own feelings and the logistics of his trips than many readers will want: his style is sometimes positively chatty; he draws on his own politics freely in interpreting his experiences. Yet the writing has a strong visual quality and vividly drawn players given the desperate shortage of popular material on Indonesia, this title helps fill the information gap.

Jakarta Post

A portrait of a religion under change, which can be as thoughtful and as insightful as it is sometimes irreverent.

BookBrowse - Davina

I agree with Kirkus to the extent that Dahlby's writing style is chirpy, and that he spends as much time highlighting the lighter hearted side of Indonesia and its people as he does the more sinister people and events. However, I don't agree that this is necessarily a weakness -- I imagine that if one was already familiar with the politics of the area (which I suspect the reviewers for PW and Kirkus are) it could be seen as 'trying of the patience'. However, for the great majority of us who have little knowledge of the current political and religious situation in Indonesia (and, if we're honest, would probably have been hard pressed to find it on a map until the Tsunami hit the northern corner of it in December) the combination of travelogue and political journalism is both relevant and interesting, as it explains the current situation in Indonesia whilst putting a human face on the people. For those who do want to explore the historical and cultural background further, Dahlby provides just the right number of footnotes referencing additional resources - some of which are available online.

Reader Reviews
Samuli

A layman's journey into... well, Indonesia
Allah's Torch makes for a pleasant, leisurely reading but is seriously undermined by the numerous, glaring factual errors (many of which concern Dahlby's interpretation of the history of Banda islands, for example: Benteng Revenge was not built by ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Tracy Dahlby is a former managing editor of Newsweek International and an expert in the affairs of Asia, where he lived for thirteen years, serving as Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post and Newsweek. He is also a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine.  

According to Dahlby: In 2000, 75% of Indonesians surveyed in a major poll expressed positive feelings toward the US. Three years later, the figure stood at 15%.  The causes for this extraordinary swing are believed to be: perceived ...

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